EDMOND – The Drive For Five proved to be a road filled with numerous potholes as Bixby High’s unbeaten and No. 1 ranked Spartans experienced last Friday night at the University of Central Oklahoma’s Wantland Stadium.
Trailing 17-3 early and 36-33 late, Bixby overcame both deficits with several big-time plays in disappointing second-ranked Stillwater for the second straight year after a thrilling 40-36 Class 6A-II State Championship game victory in front of a large, entertained crowd.
Bixby has played in each of the six championship games since Class 6A was divided into two classifications. The Spartans capped an amazing year with a 13-0 record, their second straight championship after ending as runner-up in 2017 and extended their school-record winning streak to 25 straight games.
This was a highly-anticipated game since Bixby defeated Stillwater, 34-13, in the 2018 title game. Both teams entered with 12-0 records and 24-1 records the past two seasons. The similarities between the two teams included high-scoring offenses and hard-working defenses. The anticipation was substantiated.
The Presley brothers – senior Brennan and sophomore Braylin – provided much-needed touchdowns in the final eight minutes to allow the Spartans to withstand a charge by the Pioneers.
After SHS standout junior running back Qwontrel Walker scored from one yard out with 8:16 left, the Pioneers trimmed Bixby’s lead to 26-23.
But, on the ensuing kickoff, Bre. Presley spotted a huge hole, ignited through it and out-legged the Pioneers to complete a stunning 97-yard touchdown return. Reis Vernon’s point-after kick gave BHS a 33-23 lead with 8:02 remaining.
“It was like God just split the Red Sea,” Brennan said of his kickoff return. “After I caught the kickoff, I saw the hole and as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to hit it and I was able to take it all the way. Being able to keep coming back shows the resiliency of our team. We didn’t get too low or two high … we just kept believing.”
Stillwater turned in late long-distance scoring efforts – a 65-yard scoring pass play from senior quarterback Gunnar Gundy to senior Jack Smithton and an incredible 79-yard run by Walker – to lead 36-33 with 3:05 left in the game.
The Spartans responded with a gutty drive. A drive which ended when Braylin Presley caught a quick 12-yard touchdown pass from junior signal-caller Mason Williams with only 1:04 left and Vernon kicked the conversion for the final score.
The drive was highlighted by a clutch, hard-nosed 37-yard pass reception from Williams to Luke Creeger to get the Spartans deep into Pioneer territory.
The defense provided the next boost when senior Mason Van Pelt tackled Gundy, who lost the football, which was recovered by Spartan senior Bear Daniel. The Spartans ran out the clock as the celebration began.
“It was just a battle, a back-and-forth game,” Bixby’s 10-year head coach Loren Montgomery said. “Both teams are super tough. I’m really proud of our guys for hanging in there. Stillwater got after us in the first quarter, but we hung in there and when they gave us a couple of breaks, we capitalized.
“There were a lot of big plays in that game. I’m proud of our guys for battling. Brennan’s return was big but he’s electric. He’s the Gatorade Player of the Year and I think he looked it tonight,” Montgomery added. “Our offense came back after they got the lead and Luke Creeger made a big play at the end.
“Their defense is good. I don’t think we ever did adjust to their defense. I was proud of how our defense battled, too … it was definitely a bend-a-lot but-don’t-break defense.”
Bre. Presley appeared to have scored from three yards out on Bixby’s opening drive but a holding penalty on the Spartans nullified the play. Three plays later, Bixby took the game’s first lead after a 30-yard field goal by Vernon.
“I was pretty nervous going into the game, but I gained confidence since I had hit a few earlier in the game,” said Vernon, who punted six times for a 32.2 yard per punt average and left a trio of punts inside the Pioneers’ 20-yard line. He also hit the only field goal he attempted. “I have a really good snapper in Trevon Holt and holder in Grant Dishman, so I was confident.
“I had so much adrenalin going into the game. We pinned them deep a few times with punts, everything was working well. I’m so proud of this team. We’ve worked so hard and I’m just glad to see it pay off,” added Vernon, a major college recruit.
Stillwater scored on its opening drive as Gundy hit Princeton-bound Anthony Bland for an eight-yard TD with 6:27 left in the first quarter, giving the Pioneers a 7-3 lead. The Pioneers blocked a Bixby punt to the Bixby 15 before settling for a 32-yard field goal by junior kicker Uriah Kirby for a 10-3 lead with 4:14 showing.
Stillwater took a 17-3 lead with 54 seconds showing in the first quarter when Gundy connected with tight end Luke McEndoo with a four-yard TD pass.
A pass interception by Bixby senior free safety Trevon Holt, who was celebrating his 18th birthday, halted the next Pioneer drive before BHS received a break on Stillwater’s next possession when a third-down center snap went over Gundy’s head into the end zone, resulting in a safety and 17-5 SHS lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Bre. Presley returned the kick 38 yards setting up a 19-yard touchdown play from Williams to Bre. Presley to narrow the deficit to 17-12 with 6:50 left in the first half. The momentum began changing.
Bixby regained the lead at 19-17 when senior Carson Chambers ran the wildcat formation for a one-yard TD plunge and Vernon kicked the conversion with 17 seconds left before intermission.
Chambers scored a six-yard TD from the wildcat formation with 6:23 left in the third quarter for a 26-17 Spartan lead. That drive was started after Bixby’s defense throttled a fake punt attempt by the Pioneers as McEndoo was stopped shy of the first down marker.
After struggling at the start, Bixby turned things around by finding success running against SHS’s difficult defense. Bra. Presley rushed for 125 yards on 24 carries and Bre. Presley added 49 yards on 10 carries.
“Once we started running the ball with some success, we just kept pounding the rock and that’s what worked for us,” said talented Spartan offensive lineman Kobe Williams of the offensive line’s approach. “Our attitude wasn’t very good at the start even though we played with effort but then we started rolling and had a few big plays happen and then we just played Bixby Spartan football.
“This feels great. I’ve been wanting this ever since I was a freshman … it feels great,” he added.
Defensively, Bixby gave up 196 yards rushing on 24 carries to Walker, 20-of-28 passing for 228 yards and three TDs by Gundy and five receptions by Smithton for 118 yards. The Spartan defenders also had their moments, making life uncomfortable for Gundy.
“I liked the way we played. Every time we had a good play it got everyone hyped. When we were behind, we just kept our heads and kept playing,” said Van Pelt. “It feels amazing to do this since it’s my senior year.”
Senior standout linebacker Brody Sartin added, “When things weren’t going well, I was going around pointing at my head, telling everyone to keep their heads. If you lose focus you’re going to get destroyed. I kept saying this was our game.
“It doesn’t get any better than ending your season with a state championship … there’s nothing better,” he added.
NOTABLES – Bixby ended with 347 yards of total offense – 168 passing and 179 rushing. The Pioneers had 420 total yards. … Bixby played a turnover-free game while Stillwater suffered a pass interception and a lost fumble. Spartan senior Trevon Holt’s interception of Gunnar Gundy was his fourth pass theft of the season. It was Gundy’s third pass interception thrown this season. … Senior Carson Chambers, who played well at linebacker and running the wildcat formation, suffered a collarbone injury in the game’s final minutes. … Stillwater, which blocked a Spartan punt for the second straight title game, missed extra-point kicks after its final two touchdowns. … Bixby leads the series with the Pioneers, 5-1, defeating SHS in three straight playoff games.